Carbs are the key to my heart

Also known as Valentine’s Day 2K16.

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In New York City, restaurants see Valentine’s Day as another opportunity to scam us out of our money, via a steeply priced prix fixe menu.

We tolerate this on New Year’s Eve because eating your way through a set menu of tapas or steak seems like a much better way to ring in the next year than fighting for floor space at a bar. But when it comes to Valentine’s Day, I protest.

Whether you’re single or not, it’s a pointless holiday and no one in their right mind should pay $80+ to “celebrate their love.” Save that $$$$ for cocktails at the Campbell Apartment next time you have a bad week at work, and cook at home instead.

This year, I thought I had beat the system. Given that the “holiday” was on Sunday, I made a reservation at Dell’Anima for Saturday. The plan seemed foolproof: eat regularly-priced pasta on Saturday, then on actual Valentine’s Day cook pasta at home. Double the carbs, half the cost.

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Unfortunately, I am my own worst enemy sometimes. Dear readers, live and learn from my mistakes: bottomless brunch and date night should never be scheduled for the same day…at least, not if you plan on making it to date night.

But here’s the good news: even if you nap through your Valentine’s Day dinner reservation, all can be saved by following the below instructions:

  1. Buy your significant other a nice bottle of Chianti.
  2. Make pasta with the smoothest, creamiest, most decadent vodka sauce he/she’s ever had in their life.

Works. Like. Magic.

My V-Day menu was inspired by a bag of heart-shaped pasta I bought at Williams-Sonoma. I am a sucker for festive food. While aesthetically pleasing, it turns out that heart-shaped pasta is not the best pasta. It goes from tough to soggy-falling-apart in a matter of seconds. Now you know.

For the sauce, I made Ina Garten’s glorious penne alla vecchia betolla. And I should actually re-title this post “Teachable Moments,” because the sauce was another learning experience.

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While the version I made for my boyfriend was heavenly, I wanted to make a dairy-free portion for myself. So before adding the cream and parmesan, I scooped some sauce out and added soy cream and nutritional yeast.

Here’s what I learned: pretty much all dairy substitutes are sweet. They run the gamut from almond milk which is not so sweet but turns grainy when added to hot liquid, to coconut milk which will give you a toothache. So the soy cream turned my would-be-decadent sauce into a weirdly sweet approximation.

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Other lessons learned: the Caesar dressing you’re about to see is delicious but my boyfriend wished it had been creamier. I think you can achieve that by using mayonnaise, as Deb recommends, not egg, which I used. Also, I would double the anchovies.

Nick and Toni’s Pene Alla Vecchia Bettola, adapted:

1/4  cup olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, diced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano (I used dried basil because that’s what I had)
1 cup vodka
2 (28-ounce) cans peeled plum tomatoes (I used San Marzano, the best)
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 pound penne pasta (or heart-shaped if your heart desires)
4 tablespoons fresh oregano (I left out accidentally, it was fine without)
3/4 to 1 cup heavy cream
Grated Parmesan cheese (or nutritional yeast)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat the olive oil in a large oven proof sauté pan over medium heat, add the onions and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes until translucent. Add the red pepper flakes and dried oregano and cook for 1 minute more. Add the vodka and continue cooking until the mixture is reduced by half.

Crush the tomatoes into the pan with your hands. Add 2 teaspoons salt and a pinch of black pepper. Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and place it in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta al dente (it will continue to cook in the sauce). Drain and set aside.

Place the tomato mixture in a blender and puree in batches until the sauce is a smooth consistency. Return to the pan. Note that if you prefer a lighter (read: non-dairy) sauce, it is perfectly delightful when eaten at this stage. If you prefer dairy…

Reheat the sauce, add 2 tablespoons fresh oregano and enough heavy cream to make the sauce a creamy consistency (you don’t need much). Add salt and pepper, to taste, and simmer for 10 minutes. Toss the pasta into the sauce and cook for 2 minutes more. Stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan. Serve with an additional sprinkle of Parmesan and a sprinkle of fresh oregano on each plate, and crusty garlic bread.

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Kale Salad with Deb’s Caesar Dressing, or “How To Trick Your Loved Ones Into Eating Kale”:

6-10 stalks of Lacinato kale, cut with scissors into ribbons
Store-bought croutons, or brioche, cubed and toasted in the oven with olive oil

For the dressing:

2 tablespoons mayonnaise  (or 1 egg, but dressing will be less creamy than traditional Caesar salad–though I suspect this can be fixed by pulsing the dressing in your blender/food processor a few times)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1-2 oil-packed anchovy fillets, finely chopped (optional)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Whisk all except last together. Gradually whisk in 1/4 cup olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. (Dressing can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature and rewhisk before using.)

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Recipes:

Nick and Toni’s Pene Alla Vecchia Bettola: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/nick-and-tonis-penne-alla-vecchia-bettola-recipe.html

Deb’s Caesar Salad Dressing: http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2006/09/the-fragile-cooking-ego/

 

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